Third-level teaching posts being cut despite need for additional staff, union says

Third-level teaching posts being cut despite need for additional staff, union says

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris. Picture: John Ohle Photography.

Temporary and short-term university teaching posts are being cut, despite a pressing need for additional staff at third-level, the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) has said.

It comes amid stern warnings from IFUT that the workload facing third level staff is unsustainable.

Addressing IFUT's virtual annual delegate conference, general secretary Joan Donegan said that despite over 2,000 additional college places being created, IFUT was, "aware of temporary and short-term lecturing contracts being canceled, as college administrations seek to balance the books."

She said: "The risk of ever-increasing, unremunerated workloads must be addressed. It will not be possible to sustain ‘emergency’ mode working for a full academic year.

Ms Donegan said that robust health and safety guidelines for staff and students with vulnerabilities, as well as refined protocols for online class delivery, needed to be included in the Department of Education's broader response to the pandemic.

She also called for further clarity on working from home arrangements and spoke of the "always on" availability pressure likely to felt by some staff.

"Higher education must not suffer yet again when Budget funding announcements are made shortly. The stimulus package delivered by Minister Harris and his new Department was a very welcome and no doubt hard-fought gain," she said.

Yet it addressed only a portion of the loss in higher education income arising from Covid-19.

"IFUT will strongly support the Minister and the new Department in proposals to obtain adequate and long, long overdue realistic Exchequer funding for our sector," she added.

President of the Irish Federation of University Teachers, Angela Flynn echoed Ms Donegan's sentiments.

In her speech to the conference, she said: “Covid-19 has also exposed the deep inequalities within higher education. 

"Casually employed, part-time, hourly and precarious lecturers and researchers have found themselves in even more vulnerable positions. 

"The drastically poor financial situation that our colleges and universities find themselves in has resulted from an over-reliance on high fee-paying international students.

Ms Flynn said that "valuable, skilled and highly educated people" were "being lost" from the thrid-level sector, and that now "all hands were needed on deck."

“Another inequality laid bare is that learning online will only be effective if everyone is equipped with adequate equipment and connectivity to allow for meaningful engagement,” she added.

Remotely addressing the conference, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris thanked IFUT for their efforts in helping ensure third-level education could continue, despite the pandemic. 

“I know so much of third-level education switched to online back during the peak of the pandemic, I was really encouraged to see the QQI report which spoke so favourably of how you worked to uphold the standards and integrity of the third-level education system.

I know that this work came at considerable toll on you, and no doubt to your families, and I want to thank you for that.

Minister Harris said his department was would continue to try and ensure that priority services, like education, could be provided.

Mr Harris acknowledged that not all aspects of third-level education "could be done over Zoom," but thanked IFUT for, "engaging so comprehensively" with his department.

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